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Carnegie on center stage, waterfront planning on hold

The kickoff meeting for planning a new Lake Bemidji waterfront has been cancelled.

Likely, it will be rescheduled in two to three weeks, said Marcia Larson, Bemidji parks and recreation director, but she will wait until after the next Bemidji City Council meeting before setting any dates.

The council on Monday is expected to consider a proposal to renovate the 102-year-old Carnegie Library and reuse it as a public television studio. The plan was presented earlier this week but the council opted to table it until next week's regular council meeting, allowing time to gather more information.

That decision impacts the planning process for the waterfront, because the Carnegie is in Library Park, which, along with Paul Bunyan Park, had been set to undergo a park renovation in 2013.

Planning for that renovation, similar to those done in Diamond Point and City Park, was to begin Thursday.

"With the best interests of the Paul Bunyan/Library Park planning process in mind, the Design Kick-off meeting ... has been postponed," Larson emailed.

A reversal of history?

On Sept 7, 1910, the Bemidji City Council wrestled with how to raise the needed money to fund a park next to the brand new Carnegie Library.

Citing "the neglected condition of the surrounding trees and grounds," Joseph Bisiar, the vice president of the council, said the landscape contrasts the beautiful library, according to Bob Smith's "This Day in History" column that ran in the Sept. 7, 2003, issue of the Pioneer.

The community now, more than 100 years after the library's construction, is struggling with the reverse situation.

It was suggested at the council work session that the park-planning process be done in unison with Carnegie fundraising efforts and planners should work around a blank square where the Carnegie may or may not be located.

But Larson said that will not work because the future of the Carnegie will "absolutely" affect the park.

The proposal from Upstream TV, Bemidji's public access television station, would bring together public access and government access in the Carnegie with shared studio space, infrastructure and technology.

A phased plan would be used to renovate the Carnegie, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so the east side - facing Lake Bemidji - becomes the main entrance with public bathrooms and warming space for park visitors. Upstream also offered to manage and operate the electrical, sound, projection and transmission needs of a lakeside grandstand.

Larson said the park-planning process could not be done without knowing the specific amenities the Carnegie building would contain or host.

"It's a small park," she said. "We don't want to risk duplication."

Last September, the City Council voted to plan for a future Library Park without the Carnegie. It affirmed the position in January, when council members voted 4-3 to turn down a request to reconsider that action.

Larson has been working off that direction, she said.

"The park can certainly be planned with the (Carnegie) there," Larson said. "That's not an issue. But it's hard to plan a 10-acre park without knowing the amenities."